When to Close a Case

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Question:

I am a big fan of your materials (LOMS and HSMC are both very helpful). Wanted to ask you a quick question about concluding cases.

I think the materials do a great job of covering HOW to close a case. However, what I am struggling with is knowing exactly WHEN to conclude. As I begin to wrap a case, I am always concerned that I left out a branch of analysis (e.g. I nailed 3 issues with the customer segment but may have missed a 4th). How can I tell that it is time to conclude a case?

Do you have any guidance? I'd love to hear your opinion on the matter.

Thanks!

My Reply:

If you ask the question to a consulting firm partner, the answer is never! (You just go from one engagement to the next on deeper or related issues.) All joking aside, you close the case under either of the following two conditions:

1) Time runs out -- in which case you close based on what you know, and indicate what else you would analyze if you had more time (this is how Partners sell their next engagement, incidentally). So you'd say something like, "Based on what we know, the client should do X for the following three reasons... 1), 2), 3).... however, if we had more time, it would be useful to analyze a, b, c to have even greater confidence in our conclusion."

2) The other situation is when you have enough information to answer the client's original question. The goal is to do the minimum level of analysis to have a 80%+ degree of confidence.

It helps immensely if you have a clear hypothesis, and are constantly working to disprove it... and when you can't, your final hypothesis must logically be the conclusion.

If you do not have a concrete (e.g., highly testable) hypothesis, then the tendency is to have analysis that's meandering with no point of focus that could legitimately go on and on forever... analyzing interesting, but ultimately, not that important issues. The key to avoiding this meandering (which a lot of CIBs do) is to have a hypothesis. It focuses clarity.

Related to this is setting up your problem structuring correctly up front.

So "X is my hypothesis. And X is true if the following three assertions are true: 1, 2, 3."

Then you analyze and test each assertion; when you've proven those, you're done.

So "YES, the client should acquire the target company for X, Y, and Z reasons." Once you've proven x, y, or z (or have revised your hypothesis such that x, y and z do support your final hypothesis) then you conclude. So maybe x, y and z is "1) client can't afford to not play in the fastest growing market segment, 2) it's cheaper to buy than to build, 3) if we don't buy, a competitor will and then we're really in trouble...." I'm making this up of course, and it's not very MECE, but hopefully you get the overall idea.

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